Category Archives: Shakespeare

HAMILTON CLANCY ON THE ROAD: SitPL’S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR TALKS NYC’S DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (DOT), 90% CHUTZPAH, AND THE MOST DYNAMIC ASSOCIATION OF ARTISTS IN THE WORLD ·

Hamilton Clancy (producer/director/actor/theatre (producer/director/actor/theatre maker) has been making theatre in and around Manhattan for the last 25 years and is the current/founding artistic  director of The Drilling Company where he oversees both Shakespeare in the Parking Lot as well as Bryant Park Shakespeare. Additionally Mr. Clancy is the artistic director of the Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Ridgefield, CT.  Mr. Clancy began working with Wynn Handmann at The  American Place Theatre in the early 1990’s and was an original member of the interactive experimental Offerings, also at The  American Place Theatre. After working regionally and with several  other  downtown troupes, Mr. Clancy founded the Drilling Company in 1999.  With The Drilling Company Mr. Clancy has commissioned and developed over 350 new short plays,  producing 21 projects over the past 15 years, celebrating playwrights of  social conscience.  Brian Dykstra, P Seth Bauer, Eric Henry Sanders, C. Denby  Swanson, Trish Harnetiaux, Will Eno, and Vern Theissen are a few of the outstanding writers Mr. Clancy has had the privilege to commission, produce, and direct. Additionally Mr. Clancy has developed and produced 9 world  premieres, including the 2013 NY Times Critic’s Pick, The  Norwegians, which was originally produced and developed by Mr. Clancy, and now published by DPS.  Mr. Clancy is responsible for FREE Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, in Lower Manhattan, offering full productions of Shakespeare plays in a parking lot on the Lower East Side.  Additionally Mr. Clancy is responsible for inaugural and current productions of Bryant Park Shakespeare, and for seven years, oversaw the  development of new works at The Drilling Company Theatre for New Plays  on 78th Street, in Manhattan.  Mr. Clancy has written and received  grants  from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural  affairs, Brad and Melissa Coolidge Foundation, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Select Equity Group.

His feature  film and  television credits include HBO’s Wizard of Lies (2016), Billions (2016), Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015), Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, American Gangster, The Better Angels, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  Hamilton can be seen as Kowalski in Orange Is the New Black on Netflix, among many others. He was raised in New Orleans, LA and is the  proud  father of Joseph and husband to the  remarkable Karen Kitz-Clancy.

Artistic Director HAMILTON CLANCY tools through Bob Shuman’s SV interview, as Romeo and Juliet, directed by Lukas Raphael, premieres at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, 7/11 (to play through 7/27).

What does the AD of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot–known for plays performed outside during the hottest days of summer–do during the winter?

For many years we’ve focused on new work during the winter months.  Last year, for example, we premiered Gabriel, by C. Denby Swanson. We also, customarily, sponsor new play readings.  We have a Bare Bard  series, too, in which we gather actors to read Shakespeare plays aloud,  without rehearsal.  Having developed an accomplished company over  some  seasons, Bare Bard serves as a winter rejuvenation, which can sometimes be revelatory and inspire our choices for the summer months.

Which came first:  Shakespeare in the Parking Lot or the Drilling Company? 

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot (SitPL) came first.  Shakespeare in the Parking Lot was begun by the legendary company Expanded Arts, which coined the term.  They ran a very active storefront theatre space on  the Lower East Side, for about eight years, in the early ‘90s.  When the  storefront lost its lease, the founder moved upstate, and it looked like  Shakespeare in the Parking Lot would be relegated to the distant  memory of Off-Off-Broadway, downtown.  But a group of intrepid actors decided they would continue SitPL.

The Drilling Company began in 1999. We began and thrived for many years producing short play projects.  In 2000, I was invited to be part of  the continuing Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.  The Drilling Company’s early and continuing mission was to bring diverse audiences together for a  common theatrical event.  SitPL perfectly connected to this mission.

We began coproducing SitPL in 2001, and, in 2006, we took over  producing it completely, despite a complicated gentrification process  transforming the  Lower East Side.

Describe the most significant challenge for Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.

In 2012, Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) was approved  by the New York City Council, which meant that land was suddenly  available for development.  SPURA broke am almost fifty-five year stalemate between city government and developers, and a  feeding  frenzy began, which meant that the parking lot, at Ludlow and Broom Streets–where SitPL had been performing for twenty years–would be no more.

How did you find the Clemente Parking Lot, where the company is currently performing?

We  literally spent hours and hours and hours walking around the Lower  East Side looking for a parking lot. The only other possibilities were giant school yards and school parking lots.  In the first twenty years of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, we always performed in a public parking lot.  Accent on public.  There were no gates.  No locks. (The biggest challenge, honestly, has been the lock on the gate.) All of our other options, since then, have been with institutions who are maintaining private property and, as such, our negotiations are more complicated than with the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT).  In  2015, however, we knocked on  the  door  of  the Clemente, and they welcomed us into their parking lot.

You also direct plays in Bryant Park.  How and when did that begin?                                                                                                     

Bryant Park came to see Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.  They dug it.  They read in The New York Times that DOT was hassling us to “pay” for  the parking spaces we were using, when performing.  So they wanted to reach out to us and invite us to begin performing Shakespeare at Bryant  Park.  Specifically, the visionary was a man named Ethan Lercher, who  had been with Bryant Park for many years.                    

Part of the history of Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in Central Park deals with confrontations with the city of New York.  What has your experience been like, dealing with public authorities in Manhattan? 

That answer is part of an ongoing story, because we still don’t have our Delacorte  Theatre, and we are searching for our Robert  Moses (NYC Parks Commissioner).  I can say we’ve had the best of times and the  most ridiculous of times.  Financial challenges, of course, are ongoing, because the idea that something FREE for the public should also enjoy FREE occupancy cost is anathema.  Nevertheless, we have been very  fortunate on several occasions when city luminaries, such as  Council woman Margaret  Chinn and  former City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, jumped in to save us when we were imperiled.

At the end of the shows, a hat is passed—does your work need funding or do you prefer things as they are? 

Our work needs funding.

Over the years–and currently–it has survived on 90% artist chutzpah, 8% public contribution, and 2% government funding.  We have also been tremendously fortunate to add Bank of America to our list of supporters, which sounds as if we have entered some rarefied level of backing.  Really, our Bank of America sponsorship comes through Bryant Park Picnics–so we are the happy recipients of their generosity towards Bryant Park.

What has really held Shakespeare in the Parking Lot back, though, is our  unwillingness to allow it to be anything else but FREE.  Corporate sponsors can be unsure of supporting something in a “Parking Lot”–which may not appear glamorous enough for a theatrical venture in Manhattan.

The professionals, who  grace  our  stage, however, are accomplished in  theatre, film, and television, even if Shakespeare in the Parking Lot seems  an unlikely arena for Hollywood scouts to prowl for new talent to put in  their next indie feature or new Netflix  series. That is not how our industry works, and I don’t know if it ever really did.

Our shows are a collective gift to the community.  One hundred percent  of  those who are sure about Shakespeare in the Parking Lot have felt our  magical nights of theatre, unfolding in the most ordinary of circumstances, where community, in the most simple of ways, comes together.

Always Shakespeare?

Always. Some have suggested we branch out. To me, though, Shakespeare  is a rock star who still rocks, whom we’re still catching up with, as a  culture.  Our business is to breathe life into the plays, some of the great wonders of mankind–but we don’t takes sides in the “Who was Shakespeare?” debate.  We leave it to others to fight over what’s controversial on the subject.

What do you find are the advantages of working in a parking lot?

Well, the first advantage is the lowered expectations.  People don’t think they will be touched.  It gives you the opportunity to make magic with very little.

Secondly, there is a surprising intimacy because the audience is so close. Lastly,  there is theatricality, because the actors have to speak out to be heard.

What was your first outdoor production, as an actor?

I was lucky enough to be cast as Orlando, in the Rakka-Thamm (RT) production of As You Like It, at Washington Square ParkGorilla Rep was an offshoot if RT.  They were the early “move-them-around-the-park” FREE Shakespeare.  In one scene, I would drop out of a tree and ask for food.  One night I was doing that, and before anyone could say the next line, a little girl raced onto the stage, grabbed an apple from the basket in front of us, and offered it to me.

That was 1991–and that’s why theatre is special.

How do you get used to working/rehearsing in a public space?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t think you ever really get used to it.

The challenge is to work on discovery in the early part of the process, so you can use the latter half to stage the play.

Do you rehearse outside, during the summer–how does that work?

We start inside, but after about ten days, we find an outdoor space.

How do you personally work with actors, since you are one yourself?

I give actors a lot of freedom.

And I try to listen.

Every actor we work is a famous movie star–to me.

Treat actors like movie stars, not puppets.

Do you think differently when casting Shakespeare in the Parking Lot than you would for a more traditional production?

Absolutely. You need warrior-actors. Big circuits with vocal equipment. But there is zero space for those who are cursed with pride.

When I was first asked to work in the parking lot, I called an actress who I knew had played Desdemona.  She told me to not do it.  There were no dressing rooms, too little rehearsal, and it was too hot.  She had a horrible experience.

Now I had done Baltimore dinner theatre, where you served drinks at intermission and worked for tips.  I was still working catering jobs at the time, as a sanitation captain.  All pretense of dignity had been stripped away, so the parking lot was an easy lift for me.

Our profession is a rigorous life, no matter anyone’s fortune in it.  It bruises the souls of so many.  A parking lot actor will know that, but have enough grit to go on.

Your favorite role as an actor?

Hamlet

Why?

It’s the greatest role ever written by a playwright for an actor to play.

Other than that, no reason.

Must good stage work be political? 

It’s difficult to bring oneself up against reality, in 2019, on the planet Earth, and not be political in some way.  Good stage work should reveal current reality–it should reflect the times.  I would propose that endeavors to not be political are just efforts to keep the patient  asleep.  There are many who have this interest, and it is, perhaps, more commercially viable to be an agent of anesthesia, rather than of awakening.  Our political gestures, in art, may not always succeed.  But our successes, as artists, are judged via many, many vectors and variables.  Wallace Shawn says in My Dinner with Andre, “I try to bring myself up against some bits of reality and to share  that with an audience.”  If we are attempting to awaken the sleeping patient, in  our audience, then we are, at least, working in a valid direction. 

Do you find yourself working with the same people—either with those who work on the stage or behind it?

Very purposely. It’s an always-evolving family. People come and go, but I’m interested in the products of associations that can last a lifetime, not the run of a play.  Here’s what I wrote on a napkin, a long time ago:  “The Drilling Company is the most dynamic association of artists in the world.”  

Those who attended Henry the Sixth, Part Three, in August, a few years back, would have seen you beating a drum during different sections of the play.  From a directorial point of view, why did you decide to do this?

The play was about war–the build up to it and the excitement of it.  The drum was a blessed Indian (First People’s) drum.

I wanted the rhythm of war to never leave the audience.

Most important event or influence that prepared you for your work?

Wynn Handmann. I’m definitely a disciple–and, occasionally, I like to hope I’m one of the apostles, but Wynn (Artistic Director of the American Place Theatre) doesn’t think or talk that way.

I would have done nothing, in my  life or career, if I had not had the good fortune to stumble into his  class.  I was fortunate, as a young  actor, to score a role in a play at  The American Place–actually surprising Wynn himself.

Honestly, Wynn never did  anything for me, personally, except to welcome me into that classroom.  But I listened.  And I met a core of extraordinary artists.  I saw that the key to creating extraordinary things was the collection of a group of extraordinary people, seeking a common goal, in a single room or pocket of time.

So, I don’t think I myself am particularly exceptional, other than to have been fortunate enough to have had the gift of the others–who  have  worked with me on our shows.

What’s the worst job you ever took to keep yourself afloat as an artist? 

If  you work in catering it becomes more a question of which catering job  forced you to swallow your dignity the most.

So I have  stories I can tell, but  everyone who  works in catering has them.

It’s a psychotic industry that is as addictive to the struggling artist as crack  cocaine or meth.

And I don’t think you beat it. You endure it .

But my personal mantra  is, “All Good Comes  From Catering.”

And in point of fact, The Drilling Company got its original 501(c)(3) status  through a generous grant from The Great Performances Catering  Company, run by Liz Neumark.  So, back to  you, Liz Neumark.  Their generosity helped me learn how to fish.

One piece of advice that you would give an artist trying to break into the business today?

It’s about who you work with.  So find people who you can work with well–and work with them, not the others, if you can help it.

Don’t be too disappointed by nonacceptance.

You’re not good or bad.  You’re who you are–and trying to get better.  If you’re up for doing that for your whole damn life, you’re okay.

Best play you’ve seen in the city in the last year, besides one of your own?

The Ferryman. Hands down.

Irish Rep’s O’Casey Trilogy was the most impressive feat of  producing  and theatre I’ve seen Off-Broadway in years.  Remarkable excellence.

What’s different about being a professional in the Arts than you ever suspected during your training?

The hopelessness of it all.

It’s just how it is.  Once you get comfortable with that–and you never really  do–but once you make peace with that, well, it’s just something that is  antithetical to training.

Why would you train to do something that is hopeless?

I don’t know, but we do.

It’s just that very, very, very few trainers ever, ever say the truth out loud.

One production you were associated with, whether from Shakespeare in the Parking Lot or elsewhere, that you didn’t want to see end.

The Norwegians.

168 performances.

We could still be running that play.

What’s the first play you ever saw—how old were you and where did you see it?

Peter Pan.  I saw it in the gymnasium of Ursuline Academy in New Orleans.  I believe I was seven years old.  My aunt, who was a senior in high school at the time, was playing Peter Pan.  I didn’t know it then, but  my father was backstage (her brother-in-law) pulling a rope and making  her fly.

Magic!

(c) 2019, 2017 by Hamilton Clancy (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Visit Shakespeare in the Parking Lot 

Visit the Drilling Company 

Clancy bio:  The State of Shakespeare

Photos (from top): This Week in Shakespeare, The New York Times; Shakespeare in the Parking Lot/The Drilling Company (Jonathan Slaff, Aifric Chriodain); Shuman; TimeOut; WynnHandmanStudio.com; Lee Wexler; Rob Wilson

Press: Jonathan Slaff

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot will present “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Lukas Raphael, July 11 to 27 at La Plaza @ The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street. This popular New York summer institution is now in its 25th year. Its concept–presenting Shakespeare plays with a “poor theater” aesthetic in a working parking lot–is now widely imitated around the US and around the world, with productions as far away as New Zealand. The Drilling Company, Artistic Director Hamilton Clancy, has produced the attraction since 2005.

“Romeo and Juliet” will be performed July 11 to 27, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM. All admission is free. Seats are available on a first come first served basis, with audience members often arriving early to secure a place. Audience members are welcome to bring their own chairs. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out. No one has ever been turned away and there’s never a wait for tickets.

HOW DO I GO TO SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARKING LOT? 

* Performances are at: Parking Lot of The Clemente, 114 Norfolk Street (E. side of Norfolk St. between Delancey and Rivington). 
* Shows are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM and admission is FREE
* Seats are available on a first come first served basis, with audience members often arriving early to secure a place. You are welcome to bring your own chair. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out.
* We’ve never turned anyone away and there’s never a wait for tickets.
* Subways to The Clemente: F to Delancey Street, M to Essex Street. MAP

WHERE AND WHEN:
July 11 to 27, 2019
La Plaza @ The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street
FREE
Subways: F to Delancey Street, M to Essex Street.
Presented by The Drilling Company
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM
Running time 100 minutes

SHAKESPEARE: ‘THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3–LINK BELOW) ·

 

Listen

This and the Two Gentlemen of Verona are the least performed of the Shakespeare cannon and I wanted to see the progression between the first and the last. It is for this reason that I have given this production a modern feel in terms of sound and music. I wanted to record them with the same actors entirely on location to give the sense of a strolling company, making the most of the countryside around enabling them to be as honest to the story as they possibly could be.

On the day planned for his wedding to Hippolyta, Duke Theseus of Athens is petitioned by three queens to go to war against King Creon of Thebes, who has deprived their dead husbands of proper burial rites. In Thebes, the ‘two noble kinsmen’, Palamon and Arcite, realize that their own hatred of Creon’s tyranny must be put aside while their native city is in danger, but in spite of their valour in battle it is Theseus who is victorious. Imprisoned in Athens, the cousins catch sight of Hippolyta’s sister, Emilia, and both fall instantly in love with her. Arcite is set free, but disguises himself rather than return to Thebes, while Palamon escapes with the help of the Jailer’s Daughter, who loves him. Meeting each other, the kinsmen agree that mortal combat between them must decide the issue, but they are discovered by Theseus who is persuaded to revoke his sentence of death and instead decrees that a tournament shall decide which cousin is to be married to the indecisive Emilia and which is to lose his head. The Jailer’s Daughter has been driven mad by unrequited love, but accepts her former suitor when he pretends to be Palamon. Before the tournament Arcite makes a lengthy invocation to Mars, while Palamon prays to Venus and Emilia to Diana – for victory to go to the one who loves her best. Although Arcite triumphs, he is thrown from his horse before the death sentence on Palamon can be carried out, and with his last breath bequeaths Emilia to his friend.

JAILER’S DAUGHTER ….. Lyndsey Marshal 
EMILIA ….. Kate Phillips 
PALAMON ….. Blake Ritson 
ARCITE ….. Nikesh Patel 
THESEUS ….. Ray Fearon 
HIPPOLYTA ….. Emma Fielding 
JAILER ….. Hugh Ross 
PIRITHIOUS ….. Daniel Ryan 
WOOER ….. Oliver Chris 
QUEEN 1 ….. Susan Salmon 
QUEEN 2 ….. Sara Markland 
QUEEN 3/DOCTOR ….. Jane Whittenshaw 
COUNTRYMAN 1/FRIEND ….. Sam Dale 
ARTESIUS/COUNTRYMAN 2 ….. Carl Prekopp 
COUNTRYMAN 3/BROTHER ….. Pip Donaghy

Music composed and performed by Tom Glenister and sung by Emma Mackey and Tom Glenister

ON ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ WITH MELVYN BRAGG (BBC RADIO 4) ·

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Listen 

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, written c1595 in the last years of Elizabeth I. It is a comedy of love and desire and their many complications as well as their simplicity, and a reflection on society’s expectations and limits. It is also a quiet critique of Elizabeth and her vulnerability and on the politics of the time, and an exploration of the power of imagination.

With

Helen Hackett
Professor of English Literature and Leverhulme Research Fellow at University College London

Tom Healy
Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Sussex

and

Alison Findlay
Professor of Renaissance Drama at Lancaster University and Chair of the British Shakespeare Association

Producer: Simon Tillotson

 

SHAKEPEARE RECIPES: DID THE BARD EAT THAT? ·

(Marissa Nicosia’s article appeared on Folger.edu; via Pam Green.)  

Citrus and sugar: Making marmalade with Hannah Woolley

As our First Chefs recipe series continues, Marissa Nicosia writes about a 17th-century recipe for citrus marmalade. Nicosia is the author of the blog Cooking in the Archives: Updating Early Modern Recipes (1600-1800) in a Modern Kitchen, where you can find even more information about these adaptations.

Citrus and sugar: What could be more precious than marmalade? Oranges and other citrus cultivars come from the mountainous parts of southern China and northeast India. They were prized for their beauty, scent, and medicinal properties in this region long before Europeans saw, smelled, or tasted an orange. As Clarissa Hyman writes in Oranges: A Global History, “In India, a medical treatise c. AD 100 was the first to mention the fruit by a term we recognize today. Naranga or narangi derives from the Sanskrit, originally meaning ‘perfumed from within’” (10).

The three original citrus cultivars were the citron (prized for its thick, fragrant peel), the pomelo, and sour oranges, called China or Seville oranges in early modern England. Easily hybridized, these three cultivars are the origin of all modern citrus varieties. Soldiers returning from the Crusades brought citrons and sour oranges home with them. In the early modern period, sweet oranges, sour oranges, lemons, citrons, and exotic varieties like bergamot and blood orange were widely cultivated in Southern Europe and by wealthy gardeners who build special hot houses, or orangeries, further north.

Photo by Teresa Wood.

(Read more)


 

IS SHAKESPEARE HISTORY? THE ROMANS (BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen

In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today?

The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1953

With

Sir Jonathan Bate
Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford

Catherine Steel
Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow

And

Patrick Gray
Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

IS SHAKESPEARE HISTORY? THE PLANTAGENETS (BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen: Is Shakespeare History?  

 In Our Time

In the first of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, starting with the English Plantagenets. His eight plays from Richard II to Richard III were written out of order, in the Elizabethan era, and have had a significant impact on the way we see those histories today. In the second programme, Melvyn discusses the Roman plays.

The image above is of Richard Burton (1925 – 1984) as Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name, from 1951

With

Emma Smith
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford

Gordon McMullan
Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre

And

Katherine Lewis
Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Huddersfield

Producer: Simon Tillotson

THERESA REBECK: ‘BERNHARDT/HAMLET’  (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/25.)  

Is it chance or synchronicity that brings “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” a muscular comedy about a woman unbound, to Broadway at this grim transitional moment in gender politics?

Either way, Theresa Rebeck’s new play, which opened on Tuesday at the American Airlines Theater, is so clever it uplifts, so timely it hurts.

That’s a depressing thing to say about a story set in 1899 in that temple of chauvinism, the French popular theater. Janet McTeer stars as Sarah Bernhardt, then in her mid-50s and aging out of the dying courtesan roles that made her world-famous. As far as Shakespeare is concerned, she is caught in the gap between Ophelia and Gertrude.

So why not try Hamlet?

Enter the men: Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner), one of France’s greatest young dramatists; Alphonse Mucha (Matthew Saldivar), the Art Nouveau illustrator of Bernhardt’s gorgeous posters; and Louis (Tony Carlin), a critic so parsimonious with praise I suppose it’s only fair that he’s given no surname.

(Read more)

Photo: Chicago Tribune

 

 

‘HENRY VI’ FROM THE NATIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN THEATER COMPANY (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/31.)

Halftime was ticking down at a marathon performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” when the guys in front of me returned to their seats and I fell a little in love with them. Riffling through plot points and names of characters they vaguely remembered were coming up (“Who’s Edmund? Or am I thinking of ‘King Lear’?”), they were like soap opera fans preparing to dive back into an engrossing serial.

That’s the kind of hold that the National Asian American Theater Company exerts on spectators with its oxygenated “Henry VI” at A.R.T./New York Theaters. It’s a production that asks nearly six hours from your life (yes, you can see its two parts on different days), but it repays you handsomely.

Fast-paced and gripping, this is an unusually lucid staging of a bloody history play, whose surfeit of schemes and villainy could make a daytime-drama writer blush. Yet for all the battles and beheadings in Stephen Brown-Fried’s handsomely designed production, never does it take death lightly. That’s one of the remarkable things about it.

(Read more)

Photo: William P. Steele

***** ‘PERICLES’ AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Miriam Gillinson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/30.)

Has the National Theatre ever felt as open, compassionate and heartfelt as this? Pericles can be one of Shakespeare’s more difficult plays, notoriously uneven and elusive, but this musical adaptation is a joy. It is the first production in the National Theatre’s Public Acts scheme, and boasts a community chorus of about 200 amateur actors, dancers and musicians. But what might have been a total mess turns out to be mesmerising: a giddy celebration of humanity and our endless capacity for warmth, togetherness and love.

The huge ensemble cast floods Fly Davis’s elegantly sweeping set with performers of all ages, abilities and ethnicities. Emily Lim has corralled the chorus brilliantly but she hasn’t polished the life out of them. Nervous smiles flash towards the audience and Shakespeare’s play feels so much more authentic and touching for it.

(Read more)

Photo: Playbill

BOOK: ‘PERFORMING HAMLET: ACTORS IN THE MODERN AGE’ BY JONATHAN CROALL ·

(Stanley Wells’s article appeared in the Spectator, 8/23.)

Glenda Jackson might have made a magnificent Hamlet

The role of Hamlet is, Max Beerbohm famously wrote, ‘a hoop through which every eminent actor must, sooner or later, jump’. In this book, and in its online supplement, Jonathan Croall charts the flight through that hoop of pretty well all of the ‘eminent actors’ — male and female, young and not so young, white and black — who have taken the leap in British performances, from Michael Redgrave with the Old Vic company in 1950 to Andrew Scott at the Almeida in 2017.

The trajectory of the actor’s flight is of course different in every production. No play text is complete until it is performed, and every time it is performed it takes on a new identity, determined by factors such as the personalities of the actors, the place of performance, the interpretative ideas of the director, and even the weather — in a brief account of Hamlets at Elsinore, Croall records John Gielgud’s description of a performance there as resembling ‘extracts from the Lyceum production with wind and rain accompaniments’.

Moreover, even on the page Hamlet is the most fluid of texts. It’s come down to us in three versions: one corrupt (the ‘bad quarto’ of 1603) ; another printed as Shakespeare first completed it (the ‘good quarto’ of 1604–5); and a third with changes, omissions and additions made for performance, some of them of a topical and local nature (the First Folio text of 1623). If you try, as the 18th-century actor David Garrick put it, to ‘lose no drop of that immortal man’, you end up with a text of over 4,000 lines — the ‘eternity version’, as it has come to be known — rivalling in performance length the longest of Wagner’s operas. Most directors, like most editors, draw variously on the good quarto and the Folio.

View Performing Hamlet on Amazon

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Photo: Medium